Did Knicks star deserve All-Star nod?
Julius Randle is playing the best basketball of his career, bar none. Through 34 games, he’s averaging 23.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per contest. He’s been a complete beast on both ends of the floor.
The advanced stats speak just as highly of him. He’s third in the league in defensive win shares, and both his player impact estimate and value over replacement player stats put him among the top 15 players in the league, around fellow All-Stars like Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis.
So why was it so unbelievable for fans to believe that he could be one of them?
The fact of the matter right now is that he is one of the best players in the league. Not just one of the best bigs, and not one of the best players in the East.
Although the idea is still quite novel, Randle is absolutely deserving to play alongside the stars of the NBA, and the numbers prove it.
The Knicks are surging with Randle at the helm
Despite his recent All-Star selection, the meteoric rise of Julius Randle is one storyline that has gone under the radar so far this NBA season.
Put bluntly, Randle is a lock for Most Improved Player. He went from fledgling star to borderline MVP contender practically overnight. Though entirely nascent, the New York Knicks are enjoying team success the organization has not seen in years.
Randle’s heroics in Madison Square Garden are entirely correlated with their sudden leap from perennial tanker to the fourth seed in a competitive Eastern Conference.
When Randle is on the floor, the Knicks outscore opponents by +4.5 points per 100 possessions. Beyond his regular production, the 26-year-old also raises the team’s rebound percentage and assist percentage during his on-court minutes.
After what feels like forever, the Knicks are pushing for a playoff berth. And what’s even more shocking is they might actually do it. It was certainly unexpected, and the novelty of having the Knicks and their players actually excel for the first time in years might be responsible for all the doubt thrown his way.
But the basketball club’s newfound success has everything to do with the major leap the first-time All-Star took from his last campaign, posting significant improvements in practically every facet of his game. He’s on pace to finish the season with career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists.
Julius Randle full speed on the break: Scary sight 😤 pic.twitter.com/kzS26hWVDH
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 28, 2021
Julius Randle vs Bam Adebayo
Given the novelty of it all, the big-ticket names next to him also hoping for an All-Star plum might have something to do with it, too.
Other bigs in the conversation like Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis certainly have strong cases to be named for the ASG. As far as stardom goes, they’ve just been more established names around the league. Both their names and those of the teams they play for have simply had more resonance around the association.
And so understandably enough, fans were disappointed when the ostensibly more illustrious Adebayo was supposedly snubbed in favor of the fledgling Randle.
When you consider their stats, though, Randle’s production outmatches that of Adebayo in nearly every statistical category. The latter has posted norms of 19.2 points, 9.5 boards, and 5.4 markers per contest for the sixth seed in the league just behind Randle’s fifth-seeded Knicks.
Team success is another factor to consider. Through the Heat’s first 21 games of the season, they only had seven wins to show for it. Though they’ve been slowly gaining ground again after their slow start, nothing is yet certain for them in the Wild, Wild East where the fourth and eleventh seed teams are separated by just two wins.
Julius Randle vs Domantas Sabonis
There’s no denying at this point that Domantas Sabonis is the best player on his team. Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner are excellent, starting-calibre players in their own right, but Indiana is Sabonis’ town now. He’s come to flourish and thrive in the wake of Victor Oladipo‘s departure. With the increased role, he responded well.
His All-Star case was similar to Adebayo’s. For a big man, his game has managed to stay relatively lethal in an NBA slowly shunning its towering but clumsy centers. He’s averaging 21.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 5.9 assists of 53/34/71 efficiency.
Randle is leading the Knicks in much the same way Sabonis’ steady play has buoyed the Pacers and allowed them to remain competitive in the East. Their 16-18 record is good for the ninth seed but is just two wins away from the Knicks and the Heat.
This comparison is not to say that one is better than the other. It’s only to point out that the numbers of an established All-Star are much closer to those of a first-timer, whose overall impact is sometimes better.
17-17 record and tied for the 4th seed in the East 👀
The Knicks’ turnaround continues after beating the Pacers at MSG. pic.twitter.com/CEHV0n14a1
— ESPN (@espn) February 28, 2021
Randle is an All-Star whether fans like it or not
Perhaps some fans have not been paying attention, and that’s okay. The last time Randle was on a prominent team, after all, the Los Angeles Lakers were nowhere near the title contender they are today. It’s reasonable to think that fame may still be attached to his name.
But Randle is out to prove that he isn’t a one-trick pony. Where he was a predominantly inside player at one point, he begins to expand his range from the perimeter as well. He’s become an efficient scorer from practically everywhere on the court. Check out his shooting stats this year by distance, according to Basketball-Reference.
- 0-3 ft. from rim: 65.6 FG% (19.8% of attempts)
- 3-10 ft.: 42.7 FG% (19.0% FGA)
- 10-16 ft.: 45.3 FG% (20.7% FGA)
- 16-3PT: 47.1 FG% (13.8% FGA)
- 3PT: 41.2 FG% (26.7% FGA)
This is simply to say that Julius Randle is not the clumsy-but-athletic big ala Andre Drummond from his earlier years. His game has aged gracefully in the modern NBA, and he’s responded to the changing basketball landscape with the best basketball of his career.
There’s no overstating his impact this year, especially long-term. As Randle’s growth continues to see him flourish, his presence alone coupled with New York’s young core could be enough to attract stars to Madison Square Garden. With young guns like Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett in tow, Julius Randle might be saving the Knicks franchise before our very eyes.
That’s exactly what you’d want from an All-Star, isn’t it?
Julius Randle speaks on the Knicks’ rookies striving to emulate his work ethic: “It’s a tremendous honor for me to be able to lead those guys every day” pic.twitter.com/KyM2JDVoPR
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) March 5, 2021